Landscape Photography Light – Myths and Misunderstandings

How are a landscape photographer and a vampire alike?

Neither goes outside at noon.

Seriously, it makes you wonder doesn’t it?  Blood-sucking fiend and Fun-sucking fiend, both taking the joy right out of life.

I recently stopped following a landscape photographer’s blog because he just kept going on and on about only shooting at the crack of dawn.  You know what?  It’s pompous.  It makes me wonder if the guy is really any good.  Why can’t he get a terrific photo during the day, huh?  Why cantcha snooty landscape photographer guy?  You know what else?  It’s boring.  Every single photo looks the same as every single other photo.  Lots of pastel-colored snow scenes with blue shadows and a few fences, trees and churches.  Nice, but dull.  Technically well-executed, but a yawn fest.  I mean, if that’s all you do it’s pretty repetitive.  Plus you have to stay inside all day and where’s the fun in that?

Don’t misunderstand, I get the appeal of shooting when the sun is low, but I don’t get the strictness about it. It’s almost like religious dogma with some photographers.  I mean, hell, I’m out all day sometimes, does that mean I shouldn’t take pictures?  Baloney.

I.  Don’t. Buy. It.

Witness –

 

American Pastoral

I took that shot at about midday last spring.  No, it isn’t subtle and all soft and glowing with pastel shades, but it’s still a good photograph.  Sometimes photography means working with the light you have.  It’s knowing how that can help you make the most of what you find.  Using this same shot as an example, what did I do that helped?  I used a polarizing filter.  Knowing that color would be one of the things to make the shot work, I made sure I had the best of it in that reflection.

Ever hear the expression “perfect is the enemy of good”?  Well, that’s how I think of these other golden hour only photographers.  They sacrifice good images on the altar of perfect (or their ideas of perfect) and who knows if they ever please themselves.  Yes, there is such a thing as perfect light, but  it varies by subject matter and what kind of photograph you want.  I’d rather be flexible than rigid.  I’d rather know how to deal with “imperfect” light than only venture out twice a day.  With the vampires.

So what else.  Oh yeah, how about vacation.  For most of us it means going to a place we probably won’t go back to again.  Once in a lifetime kind of thing.  You have to work with what you find.  What if the sky doesn’t have nice, puffy clouds in it like that first photo?  What if the sky is boring and dull?  Well put something in it –

 

To Infinity...and Beyond!

Or find something in the foreground to take its place –

 

Down to the Waterline

Another one shot when the sun is high and guess what?  It doesn’t suck.  Who wants to drag their asses out of bed at dawn on vacation every day?  Not this little gray duck.  Once, maybe twice, but not every day.  Hell.  It’s vacation.

All right, what if the light itself is flat and dull?  Isolate.  Get out your telephoto, baby.  Sometimes tightening up on big vistas can give you little slices that are just as interesting.

Dimensional Sojourn

 

Water Under the Bridge

Another thing you can do is scout your location beforehand.  This can present you with ideas you can use when the light changes.  Take this example –

 

Frozen gorge at Smart's Brook

I shot this on my 2nd or 3rd trip to this location.  From past visits I knew how the light would track in the afternoon and because I’d seen it in the trees before, I knew that it would also light up the ice in the gorge.  Ta da!  It worked.  And it’s what makes this photo.  Not the subject – the LIGHT.  And it’s not sundown either.  By the time the sun sinks that low up there, the light is gone from this gorge.  Mr. Snooty Landscape Photographer would have missed this completely.

See…you don’t need to only photograph during the golden hours (roughly ½ hour before and after the sun rises or sets, also called civil twilight), but if you know how to manage the light you have, you can usually come up with something you’ll be happy with.  After a little practice you can make almost any scene work for you.  Good light is what you make of it.  Of course, getting there early is never a bad idea –

Dawn at Ponemah Bog

15 responses

  1. Hear hear! Totally with you. I love the last photo especially.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  2. awesome post WD! You go girl! I want to go out shooting with you and I promise only to get up at dawn once :)

    February 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

  3. I’ve found many photography blogs boring because they all start looking cliched and alike. Thanks for your fresh view. Love the bright lights and colour!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm

  4. amritasharma

    Beautiful photos and a very informative blog!

    February 6, 2011 at 9:17 pm

  5. I could not agree more with this and I for one work along the same principles
    About time someone stood up and said this
    Thank you

    February 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm

  6. thanks everyone. I get tired of those blogs, too. The golden hour is wonderful, but it’s not everything.

    February 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

  7. Interesting read, I think there is an image to be caught at almost anytime of the day, the skill is positioning the camera to work in harmony with the light.

    February 11, 2011 at 8:46 am

  8. Yeah, I know what you mean; pisses me off too! Me, I like variety…after all, it’s the spice of life ain’t it?

    I really like some of your examples, but one must be careful about content. The ones I really like from this post are the fencepost in the canola field, but would like to see a re-crop of the To infinity and beyond pic…cut out all the rest of the bottom to the top of the trees, so that one has just the two swing seats, so that one has to use one’s imagination to guess! Agree?

    Cheers, and come visit me any time to see some of my pix (not a Mae West invitation…). :< )

    February 12, 2011 at 8:16 am

  9. Nice article. I like to shoot whenever I can shoot. The nice thing about winter is the light is pretty decent all day long.

    February 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm

  10. Pingback: Podcast suggestion - Fine art photography forum

  11. Just found you on flickr tonight. I think your photos are really stunning. I’m loving “Where Waters Fall Frozen,” the wood black with wetness and the millions of bubbles captured in ice. You capture in photos what I strain to communicate in my charcoal drawings. Hope you don’t mind me linking you on my blog (not a photographer’s page, though).

    Thanks for sharing these!

    March 10, 2011 at 12:25 am

    • thanks for the thoughtful comment. Where Waters Fall Frozen has taken on a life of its own and has become quite popular on flickr, much to my surprise.

      March 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  12. Amen to that! Love the shots you included in the post! Well done!

    October 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm

  13. Love it. But you are so right. The photograph is in the seeing. And knowing your equipment. If you can see it and your equipment can handle it, any time is a good time to take a photograph. You (usually), only get the one chance.

    October 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm

  14. Great blog, I found you from your photos on flickr. I think the no photography during midday is left over from the days of film. With digital processing is so much easier to adjust dark shadows than in a darkroom.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:02 am

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